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Bringing Hell in a Dress

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In 1977, Jennifer Barton (nee Clinton) gave birth to her second child. Francis Clinton Barton was born and her father threw away the It's A Boy cigars and walked out of the delivery room to head to the closest bar. She screamed out her first sounds into the world while her mother hugged her tight, swaddled in pink blankets and apologies.

+

“Cissy, come on!”

“Shut up, Barney!”

Francis Barton was twelve years old and smarter than her older brother. She loved the idiot, but he wasn't the best big brother. Her fingers were smaller so it was her hand in the guts of the car they were trying to boost. Barney kept look out and she tried to twist the wires the way that Freddy Collins had told her. The car sputtered to life and Barney whooped. He shoved her over and they were off.

Barney's hand was tight on hers.

They were both covered in bruises from belts and boots, but they were together and that was enough.

If she mumbled in her sleep about missing her mama, neither of them mentioned it.

Barney just gripped her hand tighter.

+

Clint got her first tattoo when she was fifteen. She was three years into her apprenticeship with the Swordsman and she'd just turned down the offer to pay for her lessons with her body. Instead, she traded her virgin blood for a tattoo on her shoulder. The hawk's wing cradled the ridge of bone and muscle, now defined with more strength than it had in the years previous, and curved inward toward her spine. The hawk's eyes were the same shade as hers.

If the straps of her bra rubbed against the linework and made them bleed the next day, she uttered no sound.

She bled again in a dusty field a few weeks later after she refused another of the Swordsman's proposals.

She wasn't a criminal and she didn't want his dirty money. Or his dirty hands on her.

She traded Francis for Clint (because if she was going to have the namesake of a warrior bird then she was going to have the name of a Western hero) and didn't feel any pain in the change.

She traded mentors for the price of a now more scarred body and the loss of her brother's affection. Trickshot honed her skills and Hawkeye found her spotlight.

He wanted her bow, arrows, and eye and would take her body if she offered.

She only offered the first three and never the last.

+

Her second tattoo is a chrysanthemum resting at the hollow of her hip, cradled there for no one but who she chose to see it.

She made her way in the world collecting charges (larceny, misappropriation of personal property, murder for hire, et cetera, ad nauseum) and fees. Her ledger held numbers of accounts. Bigger numbers in the black meant bigger numbers of red.

It meant safety. She made her way in the world, learning to fight both with weapons of steel and fists.

Safety and security and a place to rest were her priority.

+

Until...

“You shot me,” Clint said curling her fingers over the recurve of her bow. Her evening gown was dirty and blood stained now. The sluggish trickle burned fever hot against her thigh and she had no time to reach for her gun to return the favor.

“I did,” he said a faint smile touching the curve of his lips.

“And now you want to offer me a job?” She narrowed her eyes and pushed her hair off her forehead. The stylish up do she'd spent an hour fixing with bobby pins and hairspray a rat's nest now from the frantic scramble down fire escapes and back alleys.

“Yes, Ms. Barton, we do.”

“Well,” Clint straightened up and eyed the suit up and down. “You have my attention.”

He laughed. “Glad to hear it.”

+

The Suit's name is Coulson. Special Agent Philip J. Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. (an acronym so long that Clint made herself remember it only when she was forced to) who gave her a job, gave her back her bow, and traded her safety and security in bloody kills for a place to rest.

There were still bloody kills, but with a purpose now other than her own.

When she was little, very little, her mother put a movie on for her about a fox who would shoot arrows at evil kings who were cowards and gave to people who needed it. She chose Hawkeye because being called Robin was too close, still too close, to the memory of her mother.

She carved “rob the rich” into the metal of the air ducts at different junction points of the Helicarrier the first night of basic training.

There was a sticky note in her locker the following morning with a dvd. It wasn't Disney, but Errol Flynn.

She supposed it was then that she started to fall in love with Philip J. Coulson.

+

“You read my file,” Clint said coughing up blood, spraying the pristine white of Coulson's shirt with pink, ruining the cotton. She patted it with even bloodier fingers.

“I did,” he said gun held loosely in one hand while scanning the still intact windows of the safe house. Pick up was fourteen minutes out and Clint had a feeling it might be thirteen minutes too late. “Your brother is a bastard.”

Clint laughed and clutched at her side. “Nah, he was the first born. The son that my dad always wanted. I was a surprise. A mistake, wouldn't have been if I'd had a dick, but dad...” She closed her eyes then snapped them open when Coulson smacked her cheek. “Sorry. Dad, dear old Dad, he wanted a whole mess of boys. Soccer team, football team of 'em. But I messed it up. Breech birth, tore up Mama something good. No more babies. No more boys. M' fault.” She patted his cheek and there were more blood tacky marks on his skin. She frowned. That wasn't good. “You hurt, Coulson?”

“No, just you. You managed to find the only bullet the guy fired. I'll have to add a note that you should not try to stop bullets with your stomach,” Phil said pressing the silk of his tie against the hole in her gut. “Probably going to have to be a permanent mark on your record, Agent.”

She smiled at him. “Sucks to be me.”

“Yeah, I'm thinking it kind of does most days,” Coulson swore when his comm buzzed with the pick up's position.

“Yup, kinda does. They died. Dad drove 'em into a tree. Was sad. Cried forever. Then I stopped. Don't cry anymore. They left. Mama left. Barney left. But we left the place. Miss Hanniefield's house. She useta hit hard. Not as bad as Mr. Sinclair. He kicked. Learned how to climb high after that. Then Barney came ta get me. Then we ran, and ran, and ran...” She slipped into a giggle again. There was some quality grade morphine in the first aid kit. Bless you, Philip J.

“What're you blessing me for, Agent?”

Clint's eyes tried to focus, but there were two of Coulson. “Y'always take s' good care of me. Haven't had that in a long time. Voice 's always so nice in my ear. 't others think I can't do much. 'ven if I...” She's lost her place in the talk but picked it up when Coulson pressed down hard, one hand on his Sig the other on her stomach. “Y'always believed in my arm an' eye. Jus' wanted t' say than...k. God, 'm tired, Coulson. C'n I sleep?”

“No, you can not, Agent. That's an order,” Coulson sounded upset.

Clint frowned at that. That wasn't right. “'m in position, sir. Permission to stand down?”

“Not granted,” he said and his voice went loud. There was a thwumping sound above and Clint smiled at that.

“Bird in the air,” she whispered.

“Hold on, soldier. You fucking hold on.”

“Not a soldier, sir. Asset,” she patted his cheek. She wanted to at least, but her arms were tired. Strongest part of her was so tired.

“Goddamn it, Clint.”

She'd apologize to Coulson later. Maybe with donuts. But first, first she'd nap. He'd probably write her up for it, but that was...

+

Clint slept with Natasha the night they met. She was Franny and a bartender at the Swiss chalet in the Alps where the Black Widow was supposed to be hiding. They ended up in a Mexican stand off wearing only their panties and ridiculous bed head. “I'm with S.H.I.E.L.D. My name's Agent Clint Barton. We've got orders to kill you, but I think you're better than being dead.”

“I don't know. I've excelled in most things. I used to be a ballerina. I'm quite flexible. I imagine I'd be quite good at death.” There are mouth shaped bruises on her thighs from Clint's kisses.

Clint shouldn't laugh, but she does any way. “I don't doubt that, sugar pie, but I'll bet they let us work together if you sign on.”

The Black Widow aka Natalia Romanova aka Nancy Rushman aka Natalie Rushmann aka Natasha Romanoff tilted her head and looked Clint up and down. “Your name is ridiculous.”

Clint's gun didn't waver but her grin widened. “You like me.”

There was snort of laughter. “You are a very adept liar. To yourself no less.”

Clint shrugged, but the gun was still steady. “Yeah, but I'm pretty sure this time I'm not.”

Finally, Natalia lowered her gun. “I'm not calling you Clint.”

“Yes, you are,” Clint said setting the gun down on the dresser next to the mints. “It's my name, sugar pie.”

“Call me that again and I will kill you,” Natalia or Natasha or Nancy swept past her and stepped into the bathroom.

“Okay, Nat,” Clint said stepping up behind her. “You're going to love Coulson. He threatens me with death before my morning coffee pretty much every day.”

They shared a shower, a cab, and a briefing before the day was out.

Natasha smiled as she was led away to Cognitive Assessment and Re-Integration to be unmade and then made whole.

Clint shared her Toblerone with Coulson and just grinned when he ranted at her for an hour about acceptable risk and loss, procedural dictates, and improper filing of paperwork. He ate the entire bar except for the two little pyramid pieces she managed to break off for herself.

Mission accomplished. Clint gave herself full marks when Coulson only threatened her with jail time and death once.

+

Seriously, the blonde guy was hot. Super freaking hot. She couldn't wait till Nat was back from Malibu. While they'd stopped fucking each other too long ago to really remember, they could live vicariously through shared fantasies of blonde meathead hotties with arms bigger than her head.

Clint braced herself against the sides of the swinging basket. The metal whined and the rain was doing shit for visibility. The wind wasn't helping either. It was kind of like that op in the Caspian Sea where Clint was swinging with just her leg around a crane strut and Natasha cursing at her in Russian. Fond memories, she and Natasha had eaten flatbread dipped in honey afterward while Coulson bitched them out about violation of several treaties and possibly the Geneva Convention.

She sighted down and grinned as Big, Blonde and Beautiful gave Sanderson a shove so hard he went through a wall of mylar and metal. “Do you want me to take him down or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up?”

Coulson sighed over the comm.

They both watched as BBB went through agents like they weren't even there. “God, I think I just heard a nation of panties drop, sir.”

“Barton.”

Rain dripped cold and steady under the collar of her vest and down her back. Her ass was wet. She hated that. She took a breath in, “You better call it Coulson, cause I'm starting to root for this guy.” She let the breath out and steadied her draw.

“Hold off.” Coulson's voice was steady, as steady as her arm.

Clint didn't have to be told to stand down. Both she and Coulson watched Blondie just strain and heave then just break. He broke apart in front of them both and she pulled her earpiece out and got out of her nest.

No one should see that.

Tragic fucking stories should have no witnesses, but Clint was well aware that they always fucking did.

+

The only highlight from New Mexico was meeting Darcy Lewis. Clint brought back Darcy's iPod and they became fast friends. They bonded over the ogling of hot blonde thunder gods, Styx, and strawberry pop tarts.

Darcy let Clint talk her into a threesome with her and a friend in a town an hour away from Puente Antiguo. The friend had a dick they both enjoyed, a mouth they took full advantage of, and a tattoo gun and steady hands that marked them in fat black lines.

Clint took hers on the underside of her forearm where her arm guard usually sat. The Greek characters of ἀσφόδελος meant “asphodel” and were the plants in Elysium.

"Others in Elysian valleys dwell, Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel," Darcy said making sure that the characters matched from the wiki page she was reading. “Tennyson,” she gave Clint a kiss, and a smile, and then pushed, womanhandled her into the chair.

The buzz of the needle sounded loud in the quiet space. Darcy was naked and Clint hadn't done more than kiss her while they took turns with Samuel's cock. He did not mind at all. “Deep breath in,” he said around the cigarette.

“Thought you were studying Poli Sci, not poetry,” Clint said, licking her lips and watching as the first line is drawn.

“I'm a well rounded lady, Clintonia,” Darcy said, eyes sparkling in the cheap fluorescent lights. “We should talk about your puppy crush on Mr. Secret Agent Man.”

“I am Mr. Secret Agent Man, Darce,” Clint winced when Samuel started again. She wondered if they had time for Samuel to go down on her before they had to get back to Puente. She'd make it worth his while.

“You really, really aren't. Besides, you must really suck at undercover stuff. That face of yours - every time the head of Jack Booted Thugs is around it goes all...” Darcy watched Samuel freehand the letters and she frowned at Clint. “You're going to get your spy heart broken, sweetie.”

“I've been told I don't have one, kid,” Clint tapped the tiny patch of gauze on the gentle round of her upper arm. “You are literally wearing your heart on your sleeve, Lewis.”

Darcy waited for Samuel to finish before giving her a kiss and careful hug. “I'm wearing mine on my sleeve to be ironic.”

Clint shook her head and got them both out of Samuel's loft. The dressing down for taking civilians off site and being AWOL was worth it when Darcy made faces behind Coulson's back. The pancakes from Izzy's hadn't hurt either.

Darcy introduced Clint to Dr. Selvig four days after their day trip and Fury ordered her to keep eyes on Selvig and the bright blue glowing cube.

Darcy Lewis was the only highlight. The rest was a blur of blue, stinging ink, and darkness.

+

The light flickered steadily against her face. The thrum of the engines against her back was familiar. The smell of metal and burned things meant home. She hurt everywhere. “Fuck,” she whispered and opened her eyes.

The memories came back. They rushed in a sickening whirl – Loki and the scepter. Shooting Fury. Germany. Taking shots and the resounding echo of metal and carbon fiber going through flesh. The screams of people, of innocents. Flying through the air back home, back to the Helicarrier. Hearing more screams. Shooting at Fury. Shooting at Hill. Shooting at agents, acquaintances, coworkers, and friends. Watching them fall. Killing them. Giving codes. Watching chaos.

Hunting Natasha.
Fighting Natasha.
Not sparring. Shoot to kill.
Hurting Natasha.
Leaving Natasha that split second of space and time to get in the right hit.

All the while screaming in her head for them to kill her; shoot her; stop her.

They talked about being unmade and being made whole and frankly Clint couldn't parse what else they'd said until Natasha finally touched her.

Natasha's hands were cool and steady on her brow and Clint wanted to retch. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah. Yeah, give me a target, Nat. Just give me something to sight and I'm golden,” she said. Her hands were steady even as her voice shook.

“To the birds, I heard Captain America over the comm.”

“No, shit? I once fucked a guy who lived in his mom's basement who had the sheets,” Clint gathered herself up, put herself back together as best she could. She jammed the pieces that were Francis Clinton Barton back into place. They didn't fit quite right, but it would have to do. “Fury want me restricted?”

“Probably. But...”

“Yeah,” Clint hugged Nat quick and hard. “Let's go save the world, matryoshka.”

Natasha punched her arm and they ran.

“Okay. So, not matryoshka. Sugar pie still off limits? Honey lips? Baby doll?”

They made it to the jet with her at the stick. She had bruises that hurt, but they were from Natasha and that was okay.

+

She didn't have enough. She wasn't going to be able to do this. They were outpowered, outmanned, and out of fucking time and luck.

“Get me to a perch, man,” Clint said adjusting her guard and slipping off her sunglasses. Her quiver was full, but there weren't enough for all these fucking aliens.

Captain had issued the orders and they all fell in line like good soldiers, ducks in a row, and dominoes falling into place. Final show down and the curtain was about to open for the main event.

Or they were about to close on them.

“Clench up, Legolas,” Iron Man snarked and grabbed the back of her suit.

They flew fast and Clint watched New York stream below and around her in gray, green and silver smears. The drop and roll onto the roof was instinct. The flying had been like being on the trapeze lines. She'd forgotten how it felt.

Falling was flying with a designated end point. She'd butchered that quote, but there was no one here to appreciate it. Darcy would have. Clint wondered where Coulson was. The murmur in her ear was absent, her ears lost somewhere in the dusty desert hundreds of miles away in the middle of the country. He was fine. She was sure of it. He was Coulson, the agent's Agent.

“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” she whispered at the first whine of engines buzzed past her.

She took aim, breath in and then out and let loose the first arrow.

She would have to make do with what she had and make all her hits count.

Story of her fucking life.

+

She ran. Well, first she had fallen, then she ran. She grasped and grabbed arrows as she went. From the carcasses of dying and dead aliens, she collected weapons. She threaded a new arrow as she leaped and dodged debris.

Not enough. Gotta make it enough, she chanted in her head.

She'd shot that fucker off his alien hoverboard and watched the goddamn surprise when it blew up in his fucking face. She'd watched him tumble and disappear. She hoped Fifth Avenue was smeared with magician blood and brains. She hoped his scepter had made it way through his body and pinned him to the concrete like a damn cockroach.

She was so tired. Her arms ached and she was going to yell at R&D about the tension strength in her cabling for her grappling arrows.

Where was Nat?

Clint kept her eyes on the ugly glowing tower. It sparkled like a glass exclamation point of giant phallic proportions. She had claw marks, furrows in her side. She ignored the pain and pushed on, pushed past it. She spotted blue, red, and white first. She skidded to a stop as Captain America screamed into his comm. Screaming at Tony fucking Stark. Screaming at HQ. Screaming, screaming, screaming and Clint put her hands on her knees and tried to breathe.

It all coalesced in snap shots next.

Stark taking a nuke into a hole in the sky.

Nat on the roof right in the middle of everything.

Big Green missing and then appearing.

Captain was yelling. Still so loud.

Then it was done.

Stark had saved the day with an epic assist from Nat.

God, she loved that girl.

Stark woke up from his space nap and asked if anyone had kissed him. Clint hadn't heard this till later. Her feet were already taking her to the Tower.

They'd won and Clint really needed a fucking drink with her best girl and a nap.

Maybe they'd let her have one or both before tossing her in Gitmo.

+

The meat turned in her stomach. She had eaten too much. She always ate too much. The head shrinkers at S.H.I.E.L.D felt her need to over eat and to hoard food was an indicative marker of psychological childhood wounds from living day to day in the circus and her traumatic orphan status. She supposedly sought comfort in food and drink to fill the aching hole in her life without love and support from parental and authority figures.

Clint always thought, “No fucking shit.”

There was never enough food growing up even when her folks were alive. They lived paycheck to paycheck. It just made sense. Eat enough to last you for as long as your body could sustain itself. Keep food in reserve just in case. Life held no guarantees.

“You should get me back to base. I should be on the next transport to holding. I hope it's not Antarctica. Hate the cold. Maybe ask Coulson if he can swing my jail time in the facility near Leavenworth. Oh, hell. Fuck. If they're going to kill me, could you do it, Nat? I prefer a bullet in the head than the needle.” She was so damn tired and her belly was full. It wasn't steak and potatoes, but it wasn't a bad last meal.

The table was silent and Clint lifted her head. She scraped the hair out of her face and twisted it into a top knot, skewering it with a leftover wooden stick from someone's kebab. They'd take it from her in holding, but it helped keep the hair out of her face for now. “Hey, hey, Blondie Thunder from Down Under, don't give me those eyes. You know Darcy, right? You tell her I won't be able to make her graduation. Tell her she can have my records.”

She rolled her head against the back of her chair. The place was small, cramped, but it only had a blown out front window and the spices were sharp and pleasant smelling. “Nat, tell Coulson...” Clint shook her head and closed her eyes. Her entire being ached – used, misused, and abused. Rode hard and put up wet, cowboy.

“Agent Barton...”

“Fellow warrior sister...”

“Fuck...”

“She doesn't know...”

It was Nat's soft voice that made her open her eyes. Her quiet little, “Clint, I'm so sorry... Fury wouldn't let me tell you. Coulson, he didn't-.”

Clint grabbed Natasha's hand, so hard that her tips of her fingers whitened. “No. You're lying.”

“Agent Barton, Agent Coulson passed away on the Helicarrier,” Captain America said calmly, voice full of soft regret.

Fuck that. Fuck him. He didn't know Coulson. The Captain didn't know how Coulson spent his free weekends and nights scouring flea markets and online sales of collectibles with his hero's name and face on them. Captain Fucking America didn't know how they'd spent an op at ComiCon busting everyone's geeky balls on Captain America and Bucky Barnes trivia. Steven “Captain America” Rogers had no fucking clue that every year on the Fourth of July, Coulson brought in fucking cupcakes to HQ because it was Goddamn Captain Fucking America's birthday.

“Fuck you,” she said, voice low and mean. “Fuck all of you. He's not. He can't be...” She felt her gorge rise quickly, almost out of her. She forced the important words out first. “Was it me? Did I?”

“Loki.” It was the tired looking doctor who answered her.

She still shook her head. No, not Coulson. No, no fuck them. Fuck you. Fuckyou. FUCKYOU. She only realized she was screaming the words till her throat started to ache, her fingers pressing in deeper and harder into Natasha's flesh.

Natasha twisted out of her hold and pulled her across the miniscule space that separated their chairs. Clint always forgot how much smaller she was than Nat.

The last time she'd cried was the day after they'd stolen that car to get to the circus. Barney's hand had been so tight in hers even when she had slept. She'd wiped the tracks off her face as soon as they spotted the tents. She didn't cry after that.

Except now.

She wept and cursed and hit, aiming fists against Nat's shoulders and arms. Easily deflected and Clint was held in strong arms and soft curves.

Later, she was told the rest of the team hadn't cried. They hadn't known Philip J. Coulson well or at all. They had watched and let her cry, uncomfortable though the lot of them were, but they stayed and kept vigil as she wept.

It was Captain America who carried her back to base. The only clean spot on his uniform was the small spot over his heart where her face had been pressed, shining blue and white rubbed clean with her tears.

It was fucking patriotic and poetic.

Phil would have loved it.